I know what you're thinking: "Oh my God! Star Ocean 3 is almost out! I just crapped my pants!" Yes, we are all thinking the same thing. But settle down there, tiger, the game is still a month away. Maybe this will hold you over until then.
The beloved Star Ocean series began back in 1996 on the Super Famicom. Sadly, North American gamers were not lucky enough to get a port of this title, but the sequel, aptly titled The Second Story, did grace our shores and did so with much acclaim. The Star Ocean series is known for its innovative combat mechanics, item creation system, and in-depth character-character interaction thanks to the unique "Private Action" system. All of these aspects are back in the newest installment, Till the End of Time, and have been reworked and (hopefully) improved.
The story of Till the End of Time, which takes place 400 years after the events of A Second Story, starts out with a young man named Fayt Leingod and his gal-pal Sophia enjoying a pseudo-summer vacation on a space-faring cruise liner. The vacation ends abruptly when the ship is attacked and the passengers are forced to evacuate. A subsequent attack on their rescue vessel follows, and Fayt and Sophia are split up in separate escape pods. Fayt crash lands on a planet which resembles Earth during Medieval times, while the whereabouts of Sophia, as well as Fayt's parents, are in question. Reminiscent of A Second Story, Fayt is forced to hide his trusty hand cannon and take up the sword as a weapon to avoid freaking out the locals.
The battle system of Till the End of Time should be familiar to fans of the series. Battles are not random; enemies are engaged when the player collides with them on an overworld or dungeon map. Three combatants can enter the field at any given time. Two characters will be controlled by AI, while the third is controlled by the player. The character controlled by the player can be changed at any time. The player controls their character on the battle field, running back and forth to deliver and avoid attacks, while the AI does its thing with the other two characters. The AI can be told to perform certain actions, i.e. a full on attack, attacking from a defensive position, spell blasting, healing, support, etc. Melee characters can perform weak, strong, and special attacks that, if executed in certain patterns, can lead to combos, area of effect attacks, and even enemy juggling common in fighting games. All character actions are limited by an attribute known as "Guts" that is depleted when characters perform actions or move around the battle field.
As players begin to master the battle system, characters will be able to learn new skills that come in the form of attribute bonuses and new battle skills. Characters earn points which can be distributed between various character attributes (attack power, magic power, defense, etc.) as the player sees fit. New battle skills also become available, which can be assigned to the six available slots for each character. Some of these skills are active and can be equipped as short or long ranged attacks, the location of which will change its effect in battle. Others are passive abilities such as automatic healing. Each skill takes a set number of "CP" to equip, and the amount of CP a character has will increase as they battle, enabling them to equip more powerful skills.
The battle system in Till the End of Time is deep to say the least, and will most likely take a lot of effort to master. Player efforts will be rewarded through the acquisition of "battle trophies". These trophies, of which there are around 300 in all, are awarded to players by completing a battle using a specific strategy or fulfilling some other requirement. There are a variety of requirements, including defeating all enemies within a set time, performing chain attacks of a certain length, defeating all enemies using only magic, winning a battle without being damaged, etc. By earning trophies, players can unlock a variety of extras in Till the End of Time, such as new character costumes, increased difficulty levels (of which there are three at the start of the game), and a 2-player character vs. character combat mode.
The item creation system is present in the newest Star Ocean title and has been toned down since A Second Story. There are eight different crafts available including cooking, alchemy, jewelry crafting, compounding (creating consumable items and medicine), blacksmithing, writing, machinery, and synthesis (fusing items to weapons). Players can craft items themselves or hire NPCs to do the job for them. Some of the most powerful items in the game can only be acquired through this method.
Despite being originally released over year ago in Japan, Till the End of Time is still visually impressive. Character designs are unique and noticeably anime-inspired, battle animations are smooth and colorful, and the environments are equally impressive. The cutscenes are mostly executed in the main 3D engine of the game.
It should also be noted that the version of Star Ocean 3 coming to North America is the Director's Cut version, which features additional CG animation and recruitable characters as well as tweeks to many aspects of the game including crafting. North American gamers are getting the cream of the Star Ocean crop with Till the End of Time, and any fans of the series or RPGs with fast-paced combat should take advantage of it when it is released in August.